Denise Schwertfeger and her family were just settling into their new home near the beach in Corpus Christi when she learned a dangerous hurricane was headed her way and the house would likely end up under water.
She packed a few essentials, hurriedly buckled her 4-year-old and 2-month old sons into her car, and started driving toward San Antonio. Joining her on the late-night journey Thursday were her sister and 15-year-old niece, along with two cats, and the cremated remains of two other family members and a beloved dog.
Hurricane Harvey intensified Friday afternoon to a Category 3 storm with wind speeds up to 120 miles per hour as it approached the coast. The hurricane was expected to make landfall late Friday between Corpus Christi and Point Comfort in Calhoun County. The approaching storm spurred coastal residents to seek safe haven, with officials preparing for as many as 6,000 evacuees as the first hurricane to make landfall in Texas in nine years nears the coast.
“We live about two blocks from where the hurricane is going to hit and we’ve only lived in our new home for about three weeks, but it will probably end up under water,” Schwertfeger told the Rivard Report on Friday morning at a check-in station for evacuees. “We wanted to bring our vehicles with us, so that’s why we didn’t take a bus ride.”
Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb did not call for a mandatory evacuation but encouraged citizens in vulnerable areas to evacuate. People residing in other communities such as Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, and Ingleside were ordered to leave. Harvey is the first hurricane to make landfall in Texas in nine years.
Schwertfeger, who has lived in Corpus Christi for five years, packed her vehicle with important documents, water bottles, food, and clothes to last at least five days. She made it to the check-in center at 200 Gembler Road on the city’s Eastside at around 2 a.m. on Friday, hoping to be directed to an emergency shelter. Instead, her car broke down.
— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) August 25, 2017
“The car overheated and so we got stranded here overnight with the babies and everything,” Schwertfeger said. “Then these kind people came to help us.”
San Antonio couple Dennis and Joy McCarthy learned about Schwertfeger’s predicament on a local television news broadcast and came to offer help.
“The thermostat housing shattered, so we’re trying to help them out so that they can get some shelter,” said Dennis McCarthy, who is a U.S. Navy construction mechanic. “I’m donating the work, and they’re paying for the parts so that they can take care of their family.
“Part of our motto is compassion for others, so we help people out so I’m helping my fellow neighbor.”
Other San Antonians who heard about Schwertfeger’s plight showed up Friday morning and brought her food.
“I feel very, very appreciative, because people really reached out to us and helped us,” Schwertfeger said. “I am so blessed and grateful.”
Schwertfeger said that other family members and friends from Corpus also planned to travel to San Antonio and seek shelter. “We will stay in San Antonio until it is safe to go home,” she said.
Harvey’s forecast path is slow and meandering, according to the National Weather Service, meaning a long-duration flood threat with potentially catastrophic results.
“The primary problem that’s going to be the longest is the rain and the flooding and it’s something that is estimated we will be dealing with for a week or two,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday.
“Right now we have the demonstrated ability to shelter more than 41,000 evacuees if the need arises. The bottom line is the state of Texas, in collaboration with officials at the local level, are responding to this hurricane in a very aggressive way.”
As of Friday morning, more than 400 evacuees have checked into shelters, according to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
“We left everything we owned there,” Schwertfeger said. “If we have our lives, we’re happy. We really are. We came here to save our kids and our lives, and material things can always be replaced.”